John Morris Russell, conductor, Cincinnati Pops Orchestra
A remarkable artist with boundless enthusiasm for music-making of all kinds, John Morris Russell is a modern conductor who engages and enthralls audiences with the full breadth of the orchestral experience. Now in his third season as Conductor of the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, Mr. Russell’s diverse programming and electric stage presence have infused new creativity and energy into one of the world’s most iconic pops orchestras. From orchestral classics, works for stage and screen, world music, and the gamut of American styles, Mr. Russell is redefining the Pops, resulting in double digit increases in attendance and a reemergence of the globally popular Cincinnati Pops into commercial recording and touring.
Consistently winning international praise for his extraordinary music-making and visionary leadership, this Ohio native is also Music Director and Principal Conductor of the Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra in South Carolina where Mr. Russell’s commitment has yielded a new level of artistic excellence. A popular guest conductor throughout the United States and Canada, he also holds the title of Conductor Laureate with the Windsor Symphony Orchestra in Ontario, Canada, where he served as Music Director for eleven years.
Mr. Russell often quotes Edward “Duke” Ellington, who said, “If it sounds good, it is good,” and infuses eclectic musical styles into programs and recording projects alike. He grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, where his lifelong passion for music was ignited. The Russell family frequently attended concerts at Severance Hall, and he performed in band, orchestra and theatrical productions offered in public school. He gigged in “garage” and jazz bands around the city, led several church choirs and later taught in the school system where he was raised.
With the Cincinnati Pops, Mr. Russell regularly leads sold-out performances at Cincinnati’s Music Hall. Additionally, he conducts the Pops at the Riverbend Music Center and in concerts throughout the Greater Cincinnati region and on tour—serving as a musical ambassador to cultivate the burgeoning reputation of the Cincinnati region as one of the world’s leading cultural centers. Mr. Russell led the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2012 World Choir Games in Cincinnati, the USO Tribute Cincinnati Gala in the fall of 2013, and shared the podium with Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra Music Director Louis Langrée during the groundbreaking LumenoCity concerts in the summer of 2013, drawing 35,000 people to Washington Park over two nights. He’s also the creator of Cincinnati’s acclaimed Classical Roots series, celebrating African-American musical traditions. Mr. Russell has collaborated with generations of great performers including the late Ray Charles and Rosemary Clooney, as well as Idina Menzel, Vince Gill, Branford Marsalis, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Megan Hilty, Michael McDonald, George Takei, Amy Grant, Brian Wilson, Katharine McPhee and Marvin Winans.
Mr. Russell is also a champion for new music, conducting over fifty world premieres during his tenure with the Windsor Symphony Orchestra. In December 2013, he led the Cincinnati Pops in the world concert premiere of Macy’s “Yes, Virginia in Concert” at Music Hall. In April 2013, he premiered “Waiting for Wings” by Georgia Stitt and Jason Robert Brown, which is scheduled for release later this year on Mr. Russell’s third CD with the Pops, Carnival of the Animals.
The Pops’ next recording project, American Originals: Live at Music Hall, will be recorded in January of 2015 with Rosanne Cash, Dom Flemons, and the indie rock duo Over the Rhine, among others. His two recordings released with the Cincinnati Pops on the Orchestra’s Fanfare Cincinnati label, Home for the Holidays and Superheroes!, have both appeared on the Billboard charts. In December 2014, Mr. Russell will lead the Cincinnati Pops on a Florida tour, the first tour since the Pops performed in Beijing at the 2008 Olympics under the late Cincinnati Pops founder Erich Kunzel.
A sought-after guest conductor across the continent, Mr. Russell returns to the Hollywood Bowl this summer to conduct the Los Angeles Philharmonic for a trio of concerts. Other recent engagements include the New York Philharmonic, Toronto Symphony Orchestra, The Cleveland Orchestra, and Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, among many other ensembles. Across the Atlantic, he conducted the Strauss Festival Orchestra at Vienna’s famed Musikverein, featuring the Harlem Boychoir, the Vienna Choir Boys and the late actor Gregory Peck. The performance was recorded for DVD and televised throughout Europe, Japan and in the United States on PBS.
John Morris Russell’s passion for music education has made him one of North America's leaders in orchestral educational programming. Since he became Cincinnati Pops Conductor in 2011, the wildly popular Lollipops Family Concert series in Cincinnati has expanded and frequently sells out the 3,400 seat Music Hall. He also oversees the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s educational concerts. From 1997 to 2009 he conducted the “LinkUP!” educational concert series at Carnegie Hall, the oldest and most celebrated series of its kind, created by Walter Damrosch in 1891 and made famous by Leonard Bernstein. The "Sound Discoveries" series Mr. Russell developed with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra as Associate Conductor remains a leading model for educational concerts across the country. During his tenure with the Windsor Symphony Orchestra, his educational initiatives engaged over 100,000 young people and his recording of Peter and the Wolf garnered the orchestra its first Juno nomination. For his exceptional leadership, Mr. Russell was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Windsor in June of 2011.
From 1995 to 2006, Mr. Russell was Associate Conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra. He also served as Associate Conductor of the Savannah Symphony Orchestra, Director of the Orchestral Program at Vanderbilt University, and Music Director with the College Light Opera Company in Falmouth, Massachusetts. He received a Master of Music degree in conducting from the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in music from Williams College in Massachusetts. He has also studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, England, the Cleveland Institute of Music, the Aspen Music Festival in Colorado, and the Pierre Monteux School for Conductors in Hancock, Maine.
Mr. Russell lives in Cincinnati with his wife, Thea Tjepkema, and his children, Jack and Alma.
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